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Mar 18, 2016

This generation of Millennials, they can be a little difficult, right?

I’ve hired them, I work with them, my children are them, so I’ve seen firsthand what might be considered shortcomings: their short attention spans, the need to negotiate everything, and their tendency to change employers more often than more experienced workers.

So why invest time and energy to understand them?

The easy, perhaps expected answer is: They now outnumber all other generations in the U.S. workforce. However, forced attention to understanding our youngest employees is not my style.

A much smarter reason for companies to flex and bend to accommodate the under-30s is they truly have a lot to offer. I’ve found that when you set them up for success, the return far exceeds the initial investment.

Why bother?

Since we are playing with stereotypes a bit here, I think it’s important to call out some positive generational attributes, too. These are just a few of the reasons I’m glad Millennials are on my work team:

  • When they’re with you, they’re all in. This generation wants to drive solutions and do work that makes a measurable, worthwhile difference. Engaged Millennials are not just dialing it in.
  • They make informed decisions. Sure, they want it all and right now, but they also research the best way to reach their goals and often, take a conservative approach to get there. In the workplace this can translate into better, more efficient ways to get things done.
  • They put people first. This is the group that will help employers change their thinking from “human resources” and “human capital” to “human beings.” This change benefits everyone.

Tips and tweaks at work

Unless your workforce is largely in its 20s and early 30s, you may not need major changes to build millennial engagement in your workplace. Some of these are small-scale adjustments which will help set your younger employees – and your organization – up for success:

  1. Tie roles and responsibilities clearly to the big strategic picture so Millennials see their contribution to moving the needle.
  2. Allow them the autonomy to make their mark.
  3. Understand their need to develop leadership skills and feed that need. According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, “…Millennials intending to stay with their organization for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68 percent) than not (32 percent).”
  4. When interviewing, look at culture fit in particular. Shared organizational values are extremely important to younger employees.
  5. Ensure strong onboarding. Few things will cause new hires to disengage faster than if their first days are a stark contrast to the expectations created during interviews and hiring.
  6. Promote collaboration. True, Millennials typically like to be self-directed, but collaboration often builds engagement at work.

Turnover: Don’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Millennial turnover looks to be a fact of life. Companies should do be doing everything that makes sense in their workplace to engage this generation, but I also think it’s time we start looking at turnover differently.

One place to start would be planning more realistically for younger employee turnover. If we adjust expectations and recognize costs more accurately, it may lead to new and better decision-making around talent acquisition practices.

Another, even more proactive idea is to shift the focus of the Millennial employee lifecycle from length of time to achievement of an objective that’s agreed upon by both employer and employee.

This approach can feed directly into a known Millennial motivator: Engaging in work that has a clearly defined impact. For businesses, this may ease turnover transitions and dips in productivity, and reduce the need for emergency hiring.

To learn more on this, read the great Fast Company article which details an innovative organization trying this approach.

At the end of day, Millennials are really worth the effort. Let’s focus on what we can change rather than trying to fit new pegs into old holes, and we should all come out ahead.

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